Mountains soar towards the sky, rivers weave, winding their way down hillsides and through little villages scattered in colourful meadows. Surrounding them are lush pastures where animals graze on verdant fields and soaking up all that fresh mountain air. This is Vorarlberg, in Austria, a region in the far west of the country with landscapes as diverse as they are beautiful.
While it is the smallest region in Austria, Vorarlberg has an abundance of natural attractions, incredible farm to table food, and luxury hotels that keep in-the-know visitors returning year after year.
It may not be as well known as Salzburg, its mountains not quite as famous as Tirol’s, but perhaps that is part of Vorarlberg’s attraction. This gorgeous green corner is a secret oasis of breathtaking good looks and food so delicious, it is clear that it benefits from the clean, fresh landscape in which it is grown. Nature is at home in Vorarlberg and visitors can enjoy its bounty from hiking to dining on organic food.
In this travel guide to Vorarlberg, we’ll look at why you should add it to your list of places to visit this summer. We take a look at its nature and culture, some of the best towns in the region, and accommodation there, as well as highlighting many things to do in Vorarlberg, and other attractions such as its fantastic food scene. Furthermore, don’t forget to save our map of all the locations we’ve mentioned here to your phone for use when putting together your own Vorarlberg travel itinerary.
Summer is a glorious time to be in Vorarlberg, Austria, as it’s a place where you can truly feel nature’s embrace
Get a feel for Vorarlberg
Before we give you the lowdown on Vorarlberg, why not get a feel for it in our video here.No matter the season, Vorarlberg offers enough variety to hold the interest of all comers. Winter is the most popular season, as the lofty mountain peaks see skiers race to Lech, the second highest town in Austria, and, following Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry’s visit in 1994, also one of Austria’s most fashionable. But summer too is a glorious time to be in Vorarlberg as it’s a place where you can truly feel nature’s embrace.
There are countless kilometres of hiking trails, art trails through the mountains and fabulous festivals – including the famous Bregenz Festival on beautiful Lake Constance in Bregenz, Vorarlberg’s regional capital. But what is most wonderful of all is how Vorarlberg urges you to slow your pace, to engage your senses and just enjoy the moment – be it the whooshing of a distant bird’s wings, the trickle of a mountain stream, or a tinny chime of a cowbell. Nature abounds in Vorarlberg – a place where many of the farming methods are so organic, and food so farm-fresh, it could have given the concept of farm-to-table its name.
Explore Lech a fashionable town with nature on its doorstep
The renowned ski resort of Lech isn’t only worth visiting in winter. This vibrant town sympathetically embraces a traditional Austrian alpine way of life, while offering access to some of the most beautiful mountains, which are brilliantly white in winter and gloriously green the rest of the year. It was to this dramatic backdrop of mammoth mountains, that we headed first.
Get a mountain high
From the centre of town, you can do like us, and take a cable car 2,350 metres up to the top of Mount Rüfikopf. High above Lech, you can take in the beauty of the town and the Austrian Alps in all its greenery. On the morning of our visit, the sun shone brightly as we peered over meadows, at forests, and to glistening lakes beyond. Time seemed to move more slowly as the glory of this extraordinary landscape revealed itself.
After absorbing the magnificent vistas, we took a short walk to the Monzabonsee mountain lake, perfectly marooned in its mountain hideaway. This still and peaceful landscape gives you the chance to contemplate Vorarlberg’s immense natural beauty.
On the way to the lake, we also enjoyed a new art exhibition. Door, as the name suggests, is a quirky display of nine doors and doorframes along the Green Ring – a three-day hiking route on Mount Rüfikopf. Rather peculiarly, nine stand-alone doors have been placed on the mountainside, and visitors can open and walk through, or just walk around them.
It was slightly surreal to see doors that serve no practical purpose, dotted along the mountain. However, art, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the exhibition enthralled me. Each door you open providing a new view of the landscape while encouraging you to ponder the art.
Nature’s bounty in Lech’s hills
One of the great joys of travel is to see how local people live and appreciate cultural differences. So it was gratifying to meet herbalist, Veronika Walch back in Lech, and take a herbal walk with her. It provided yet another insight into this world-renowned resort.
Veronika is a long term resident of Lech and explained how she has watched the town grow over the years. However, its natural wonderland of herbs and plant life is still thriving.
I have been to Lech before and was impressed by its beauty, the snow-capped mountains that soared to the heavens, the verdant green hillsides that provide scenic contrasts and the enchanting alpine architecture nestled in the valley. But Veronika revealed a new layer to Lech’s intriguing natural beauty.
Plants, grasses and bushes we would normally pass by without a second look suddenly took on new importance as Veronika began to reveal their different characteristics and medicinal and culinary importance.
As we strolled over hillsides and through meadows on the edge of the town, she pointed out many varieties of plant and herbs. Then she’d gather a selection, placing each carefully into the little wooden basket she carried. They were to be taken home for use in herbalist workshops she runs.
Over our two-hour herbal walk, Veronika explained the medicinal benefits of the area’s treasure trove of flora and fauna. My ignorance about the abundance of healthy, medicinal and nutritious plants and herbs all around us unsettled me. However, I was grateful and fascinated to have had my eyes opened.
Included in the array of herbs that Veronika introduced us to on Vorarlberg’s hills were the following:
- Edelweiss which is far more than just a song from the film, The Sound of Music, it also protects skin against UV rays and premature ageing.
- Red Clover which is helpful to women during the menopause.
- Buckhorn which is good for coughs and sore throats.
- Cummin which aids the digestive system.
- Nettles which, when made into a tea, help to detox the body.
- The humble thistle – something I would never have given a second glance to – can seemingly be boiled in water or eaten raw
- King Henry – a type of wild spinach. This and thistle are healthy and surprisingly popular.
- Ladies mantle which is a tea that helps to digest fat.
One intriguing plant of which I don’t know the official name but is colloquially known as grandmother’s underwear is a root plant used to make soaps and its leaves are used in salads.
Veronika introduced us to a great variety of herbs and plant life, which was fascinating. Her knowledge was extensive and added to this she was charming, friendly and engaging. In her beautiful home, Veronika holds workshops in a purpose-built kitchen. Here all the herbs gathered on her working tours are transformed into drinks, foods, vitamins and even soaps.
We were fascinated at how nature plays its part in everyday life for the people of the Vorarlberg region. Local people are in step with the natural bounty of their mountain location and show great respect for it, utilising it for the benefit of all.
To stroll across moors is one thing, to do it barefoot is another. So we removed our shoes and socks and walked across the soft, damp, peaty moors, connecting with the earth beneath us
Fine dining in Lech
In Vorarlberg, we enjoyed everything from fine dining at luxury hotels to more rustic fare. In Lech, gourmet cuisine doesn’t get any better than at the five-star Hotel Aurelio, with a restaurant which serves an à la carte menu of traditional and modern Austrian dishes as well as an array of international options.
Our meal consisted of a selection of their tasty starters including a buffalo mozzarella and a type of pierogi, followed by roast duck, and kaiserschmarrn – a popular Austrian dessert. We recommend staying at Hotel Aurelio – see more, further down in this guide. But even if you can’t stay there, we’d thoroughly encourage you to go for a meal there – it’s one of the best meals we’ve had in Austria (and we’ve had very many).
Farm to plate in Vorarlberg, Austria
Vorarlberg has a distinct and fascinating culinary culture where the vast majority of food served in hotels and restaurants comes from within a 30-kilometre radius and only from trusted sources. In many cases, the fresh vegetables and herbs come from the restaurant or hotel’s own garden. It is all seamlessly merged and managed, and highly appreciated by local people.
Here you will find people who truly understand the value of their food and seek the highest quality for their dining tables. See more in this video taking in gourmet food in Vorarlberg as well as in Graz.
Alpine adventures in Bregenzerwald
Next, we journeyed to another part of Vorarlberg – Bregenzerwald, winding our way along spectacular country roads and past dramatic scenery.
There we visited Au, one of 22 attractive villages that affirm the charm of the Bregenzerwald region. But we were in Au for lunch and a tour of the Löwen Mountain Bar and Distillery. Built in 1886, Löwen is housed in a building that is a magnificent example of traditional alpine architecture.
Schnapps and gin tasting in Bregenzerwald
We chose a typically tasty Austrian mountain lunch of cheese spaetzle – similar to macaroni cheese it’s topped with fried onions. However, what lay on the floor beneath the restaurant was even more impressive for me. For the last six years, the Löwen has been a distillery producing a great many varieties of schnapps and gins.
Having a distillery in a small village came as no surprise to us as schnapps is an Austrian obsession. It is produced right across the country, by everyone from small home brewers to specialist distillers.
At the Löwen, host Siegfried Atzlesberger explained the distilling process and the local ingredients – mountain herbs, differing types of grains and even hay – used in making his schnapps, and more recently, gins.
Siegfried holds regular sessions where visitors can learn about the distilling process. And importantly, they can sample produce in schnapps and gin tasting sessions.
I must confess, we sampled about 15 – 20 different flavours of spirits. I remember enjoying each and every one of them, although the rest of the day did become just a little hazy.
The Löwen distillery tour was a lot of fun though and gave us an insight into another traditional Austrian culinary and cultural experience.
You can visit the distillery from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm, and Sundays from 9am to 6pm. Distillery tours and tastings are held on Thursdays and Fridays at 4pm.
Making Vorarlberg mountain cheese
Food isn’t just sustenance in Vorarlberg, it’s an intrinsic part of the culture and traditions that run deep in the region. Cheese, for example, is big business in Vorarlberg, with people travelling from all over Austria, plus a number of in-the-know tourists to sample its flavour-packed mountain cheeses.
Bregenzerwald is home to the Kasestrasse or Cheese Route – a network of 160 producers taking in everything from peasant farmers to village dairies, alpine dairies and farm shops. As cheese lovers, we felt it only right that we experience the region’s finest export, so we headed to Metzler Dairy, near the town of Egg.
Here Sarah and I took part in one of their regular cheese making classes. Each class lasts about three hours and is diligently led by Magdalena Metzler, the founders’ daughter-in-law. We started the day by meeting the goats and cows that produced our base ingredient – unpasteurised milk.
Just behind the specially designed cheese-making studio, there are sheds housing cows and goats. And, after saying hello to the animals we got to work.
Inside the Metzler workshop, we excitedly stood behind our own individual cheese-making station – with a bowl of milk, burner and thermometer to get it to the right temperature and various ingredients like rennet to turn milk into something decidedly tastier. Full of anticipation, but clueless as to what to do, we prepared for a whole new experience.
Magdalena and her two helpers expertly explained the process and us novices began our journey turning the goat’s milk into three different cheeses.
As well as being light-hearted and good fun, the session also stopped for a nice lunch and a few glasses of schnapps. I’m not sure if this enhanced my cheese-making skills any, but it certainly ensured my confidence soared.
With our cheeses shaped in moulds, we added flavour to our handiwork with an array of spices and herbs – garlic, oregano, chives and more. Then there were many, like cornflower and dandelion, that were straight from Vorarlberg’s mountain meadows.
With a certain amount of pride, I must say that our lovingly crafted cheeses were surprisingly good, with a fine texture, while the spices and herbs provided a variety of pleasing tastes.
At the end of the session, each of our cheeses was vacuumed packed for us to take home, which later proved a tasty reminder of a fun packed day at the dairy.
Cooking on the Cheese Route
After learning so much about the food culture in Vorarlberg – and eating our way through our education – we made for the kitchen ourselves to put our ingredients and culinary skills to good use. This time at the very modern Ernele restaurant, in the Romantik Hotel Das Schiff, in Hittisau.
There, head chef Felix Gross schooled us in the art of making delectable fresh ravioli – because it’s one thing to buy ready-made ravioli, but another to craft it from pasta to plate.
For our ravioli filling, we used one of the cheeses we had made earlier that day at the Metzler Dairy. Even though we say so ourselves, the cheese filling was lovely and the meal left us full and with a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.
Nature in Vorarlberg – moor to see in Krumbach
We started our last day in Vorarlberg in the village of Krumbach. It’s a town that’s surprisingly best known for its bus stops. But this time we were heading for a dawn walk across the 4,000-year-old Krumbach moorlands.
Bleary-eyed we met up with our guide Petra, whose extensive knowledge was to bring to fascinating life what would otherwise have been considered a soggy area of ground.
To stroll across moors is one thing, but according to Petra, to do it barefoot is quite another. She explained it was a way of getting in contact with the earth and feeling and connecting with the moorland. So, we removed our shoes and socks and walked across the damp and very soft, peaty moors. Surprisingly, it felt very relaxing, with the exceedingly soft ground providing such a springy surface we were able to bounce over it.
The moors have 14 viewing points and platforms where visitors can sit and fully appreciate their historic beauty, there’s also information on what you are seeing before you, plus books and things to amuse little ones. Petra rather poignantly referred to the moors as “the children of the last Ice Age”, and explained that they are protected from development and overuse.
She told us that peat was cut there for fuel until about 60 years ago when the practice was banned in a successful attempt to safeguard the moor. Also, no fertilisers are allowed on the moor. Clearly, the good people of Krumbach were way ahead of their time in seeking sustainable solutions to conserving the environment.
At the edge of the moors we came across a pig farm, where the farmer, had joined others to create another of Vorarlberg’s organic projects.
The group bought duroc pigs, famed for the quality of their meat. They even rent the pigs out to local businesses including local hotels who use them to clear their ground before planting their own vegetable and herb gardens – the most organic form of gardening.
Our walk ended with breakfast at the Gasthof Adler one of four official Krumbach moor restaurants where meals are prepared using berries, herbs and plants from the moorlands and produce from moor farms. The other three Krumbach moor restaurants are the Restaurant Schulhus, the Restaurant Rossbad and the Krumbacher Stuba.
We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast feast at Gasthof Adler in Krumbach. The spread included a variety of breads, homemade jams, organic butter, cold meats, cheeses, fruit compotes and cereals, plus local specialities like Riebel, a hearty semolina based pudding.
Once again the highest-quality foods supplied by local farmers, reinforcing Vorarlberg’s promise of sourcing the finest food from local farms to a local table. It was a glorious end to a memorable experience.
Dining out in Bregenzerwald
As you can tell, we enjoyed many great meals in Bregenzerwald, but one that really stood out was an organic dinner at Biohotel-Schwanen, in the village of Bizau. This is the hotel where, owner Emanuel Moosbrugger borrowed duroc pigs to clear their garden before the hotel planted their own vegetables and herbs, and is indicative of how committed the hotel is to organic food and farming methods.
There we had a delicious dinner of seasonal dishes including filet of saibling, a freshwater fish, and organic chicken with sweet potato puree.
Recommended hotels in Vorarlberg
There are many great hotels in Vorarlberg, but we recommend staying at:
Hotel Aurelio in Lech – a magnificent luxury hotel, it merges tradition and modernity in spacious rooms and chalets. And its reputation for serving delicious food is well deserved.
This ski-in, ski-out resort is connected to the Lech-Arlberg slopes by a bridge connecting you to 340km of ski runs, and it has an extensive spa with saunas, aroma salt steam rooms, herbal baths, sensory showers, and a snow atrium.
Rooms feature wood interiors, balconies and some have standalone bathtubs.
In summer you can go hiking, mountain biking, do yoga, fishing and swimming in the indoor pool. Among the hotel’s many delightful surprises are three furry alpacas they have adopted. They are as cute as can be and can often be seen out on the hillside. You can also book a walking tour with the alpacas.
Aparthotel Filomena is an affordable family-friendly option in this exclusive town. It features spacious apartments with separate living rooms and fully-equipped kitchens for self-catering. It does, however, also offer an extensive breakfast buffet. Its wellness complex features an indoor swimming pool plus a choice of saunas and steam baths
In Bregenzerwald we stayed at the family-run Hotel Gasthof Krone, a lovely comfortable hotel, built in traditional alpine style, in the centre of the town of Hittisau.
The hotel is a fascinating example of how to combine traditional and modern architecture, and this was all achieved with the skills and talents of local architects and craftsmen from Vorarlberg. The Gasthof Krone is a great example of living history, where the original building has enjoyed adaptions that chronicle the ages it has lived through during its 170-year history.
The rooms at the Gasthof Krone were comfortable and a decent size and their menu very good. We had a delicious dinner on their outside terrace and the lunch we ate in the restaurant was equally as impressive.
Biohotel Schwanen is perfect for nature lovers and those who like to travel sustainably – their motto is “reduce to the max”. But that in no way describes the hotel’s service. It is built with conservation in mind from its exterior – rebuilt in 2009 in a modern Bregenzerwald silver fir wood construction, to its rooms, filled with wooden furniture made by local craftsmen, and the organic food in its restaurant.
More Vorarlberg travel tips
- Vorarlberg is accessible by plane from the UK and US via Friedrichshafen and Memmingen in Germany (the closest airports to the region’s capital, Bregenz), and Zurich, in Switzerland, or Innsbruck, in Austria. Check for flights here.
- Though Lech and Bregenzerwald are accessible by train (and Austrian trains are very good), you’ll find the region hiring a car more convenient and the roads are great to drive.
- Both regions of Vorarlberg offer affordable discount cards for visitors with offers on a huge range of local attractions. So be sure to pick up a My Lech Card or Bregenzerwald Guest Card. The Bregenzerwald Guest Card is included in the accommodation price when visitors stay for at least three nights between May 1 and October 31 in the region.
- Find out more about visiting Vorarlberg in every season here.